Home Chapter 34

The time is come. My Voices are not vague now, but clear, and they have told me what to do.” 

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF JOAN OF ARC,  by  the Sieur Louis De Conte (Mark Twain)

 

 

 

“Marc?” the Chandler woman questioned his presence from where she crouched on the dirt floor.

Despite Marc Morrissey introducing himself with a bang and badge, no one in the room dropped their weapon and the lion man’s attention remained on the sliced-up guy kneeling in front of him.

A lion man.

Marc blinked.

When he realized a ViCAP killer was stalking Chandler, he expected a psycho in an animal costume, not an actual animal on two legs, complete with fur, muzzle, and claws.

And the guy at the monster’s mercy was most likely Gabriel’s assassin. He fit Chandler’s description—beyond pale, bleached hair, black tactical vest, bulging eyes. Marc saw why the bag lady called him White Rabbit.[i]  Judging by the trail of bullet-ridden bodies, this had to be their suspect. But what was this place he followed him into? And how was he supposed to get him out of here?

One crisis at a time.

“Miss Chandler, are you all right? Is the baby all right?”

The child, with back-arching protest, howled as Chandler pushed herself to standing. That was a good sign, if Marc’s mother had imparted any parenting wisdom to her four rowdy boys, a strong cry meant a tumbled baby wasn’t too bad off.

“I’m fine.” She walked to him with an unsteady gait. “But please, lower …  your … gun,” she begged. “Vincent won’t hurt anyone.”  

The White Rabbit’s messed up arm and bloody face told a different tale.

“Take your shot, Vincent,” the killer taunted with a bloody sneer.

The beast man growled, lip curled, fangs showing, claws twitching to strike.

“That’s enough!” Morrissey shouted, wrenching the suspect up by the vest and out of the monster’s immediate striking distance. “Everyone who isn’t holding a baby put your hands on your head,” he commanded. “We are all going back.”

The other men in the room hesitated to obey and from his left came a shout.

“No way!”

A young woman ran into the cave heaving a crossbow.

She was still clad in her mended army jacket, and Marc recognized the unidentified female from Schultz’s photos, Chandler’s companion from the plaza.[ii] What was she doing down here?

“Put down your weapon!” he ordered, but she defiantly aimed at him and his suspect with the medieval bolt-action, forcing him to switch his sights to the most urgent threat.

Until it wasn’t.

“You—” the lion man reacted as soon as he turned his Sig on the girl. He saw Marc, maybe for the first time … and it wasn’t good.

“Marc, you should leave,” Chandler warned. She reached out, attempting to break the monster’s stride, but he shook her off, barreling fast.

“Get back!” Morrissey shouted, targeting the beast man again.

“You kept … Catherine … captive.”

The mutant gasped at irregular intervals, as if to keep his lungs open.

“You knew … what she endured in Gabriel’s tower …”

Cathy put herself between them.

“Vincent, please stop!”

“And still you locked her away!” the lion man shouted over her head.

“Help me, Vincent!” Chandler yelled up at him, a mandate more than a request. She pressed her child into the monster’s arms and stated as if any of them needed a reminder. “The baby is crying.”

The monster staggered back from her unexpected presentation, his focus darting from Marc to the woman, then finally the child, now in his immediate care, now his responsibility.

Everyone held their breath except the baby whose wails continued to echo off the walls.

Fraction by fraction, like slowing a car by easing off the gas, the beast man’s concern shifted. He drew the child into a surer embrace. The baby’s frightened cry abated into a less forceful, indignant one.

“It’s over, Vincent,” Chandler said looking at Marc and the killer up and down as if to make sure they made no sudden moves. “It’s over,” she repeated and caressed the mutant’s arm. “I need you to take our baby home.”

Our baby…

My God…

“You need help. You’re hurt.” She probed the lion man’s bleeding forehead. “I felt it … the blast.” He winced, catching her hand before she explored further.

The monster sported other wounds as well—a free-bleeding gash to the thigh, the wheezing breaths. If he’d been caught in the explosions, there might be internal damage. He needed a doctor and good luck finding one down here. Good luck finding anyone who would know what to do with him.

Peter Alcott.

Peter Alcott had been Cathy Chandler’s doctor. He harbored her and her baby. Kept them secret.

He probably knew the child’s father as well.

Another piece locked into place.

Cathy stroked the baby’s head as if to call attention to him.

“Vincent, I need you to take care of Jacob.”

At the sound of his name, the baby squirmed in his father’s arms.

Father.

Not Elliot Burch. Vincent was the baby’s father.

The reason Gabriel Sol kept her alive.

That’s why she was so fuzzy on the details of her escape from Gabriel and his men.

She didn’t ask for the miracle to explain itself,[iii] because she knew that miracle … intimately.

A miracle approximately six feet tall, With patchwork clothes and a propensity to slice men in half.

A miracle who had knowledge of Gabriel’s operations, knowledge of the assassin … and who had murdered at least four men rescuing his pregnant girlfriend.

“Miss Chandler—” Marc said, trying to grab her attention,” — he …”

What to even call him?

“Your child’s father has to come in.”

But the others in the cave had their own opinions.

“Not going to happen,” warned the tomboy, raising her bow caster, as if itching to use it.

Another of the group, a black-haired man with scars across his cheek, sidled up between the parents and stated, “You won’t lock him up.”

He was the only one of them, besides Chandler, wearing regular clothes. The rest—a thin and grizzled man wielding a wicked, curved blade, an old, but robust gentleman holding a thick staff, and a fat guy backing them up—all wore the same scrounged and haphazard attire as the lion man and the tomboy.

Street people had run interference when the agents followed Chandler across the Plaza. How did a rich girl from the upper East Side become involved with a homeless community?

And the more immediate question—With no backup, how was he getting her and her stalkers back to the land of sanity?

Without taking his eyes off Marc, the scarred man quipped an aside to Marc’s witness, “Nice to see you again, Chandler.”

“Good to see you too … Jeff.” she said.

The scarred man chuckled. “That’s me, good old Jeff. Always turning up like a bad penny. Lucky for you, though, I kept up my knife skills.”

“We are lucky,” she agreed sincerely, contrasting his jesting. “You can make sure everything is wrapped up here if I can’t, correct?”

“No problem, Cathy,” he assured with a glance to the other men. “We’ll handle it … all the ins and outs.”

With a nod, half dismissal, half thanks, she stepped towards Marc.

“We’ll help you get Snow safely into custody,” she pledged, then exhaled. “And I’ll go with you.”

“Catherine ….  no …” the monster protested.

She turned to the lion man.

He blinked in disbelief. “I won’t … leave you.”

“Vincent, you and Jacob must go. You’ve done everything you can.”

She offered him a fragile smile and hugged both father and son.

“You shielded us. You kept us safe. Now it’s my turn.”

After she released them, the baby stared at his mother for a moment, before bowing his body, arms outstretched, clearly wanting her to take him. When she wouldn’t, strangely, the child didn’t cry. He turned away, into his father’s chest. She stroked the child’s head, but he only burrowed further, as if refusing to look at her.

Shaken by the rejection, she looked to the others for conviction. The skinny man and the older one nodded at her choice. The fat man stood frozen, while the young woman’s gaze bounced between Chandler and the beast man.

“You really going to let her tell you what to do, Vincent?” Snow goaded in the silence. “You really gonna leave before we finish this?”

The regular clothes guy took a wary step around the assassin and tugged on the monster’s arm.

“Come on, buddy. The old man will want to see you.”

“Catherine?”  her lover questioned again, holding Chandler with the searching eyes he’d given his offspring. “Why?”

“I have to, Vincent. I have to go. I have to find a way.”

And so did Morrissey. This might be the last chance.

“Miss Chandler, your child’s father needs medical attention, and he has knowledge of this case—”

She cut him off.

“He won’t be going anywhere with you.”

And as if her words were the signal, the other men circled around Vincent, putting themselves between Marc’s gun and the lion man.

“Come on, big guy,” the dark-haired man insisted, pulling him towards the exit.

With a last look behind him, Vincent departed, using a stone wall for support.

He was getting away … limping away. The Subway Slasher, The Manhattan Wolfman … The Monster of Central Park.

“Miss Chandler, I can’t leave without him.”

Was she even listening?

She didn’t say anything during the time it took the group to exit the cave and travel into the next. Her back was still to him when she did answer.

“He has nothing to do with any of this.”

Was love truly that blind?

“That’s not true.”

“Did you see him commit any crime?” she asked in her familiar interview tone—flat, all emotion ground to dust.

“No … but he almost did.”

At that, the assassin chuckled. “Yeah, almost, but you control him, don’t you, slut? Your pussy that golden?”

Chandler didn’t acknowledge the needling, only watched as the group journeyed across a long wood and rope bridge in the adjoining cavern.

How far beneath the city did this maze go? If Vincent escaped, would he ever find him again?

“Cathy, you know …” Marc ventured into dangerous territory to reach her. “You know what he’s done in the past.”

“Only in defense of others.” She turned, she countered. “Only when there was no other choice.”

It sounded too pat, rehearsed. Did she truly believe that?

“Shouldn’t that be for the law to decide?”

Her gaze dropped. She was thinking.

Would she give in or dig in?

“If you have evidence of a crime, you should get a warrant.”

Digging in.

A warrant, for this place … for this … what?

 “I swear, your honor, a cat creature named Vincent lives underneath the sewers, fathered a child with my witness, and assaulted another suspect with his claws.”

If his closeted status didn’t get him dismissed from the Bureau, putting that affidavit in front of a judge surely would.

She was clearly compromised. Stockholm syndrome, maybe? Yet Catherine Chandler’s reputation was above reproach. Everyone from her office said she believed in her work. Could she be reasoned with that way?

“You’re an A.D.A., Cathy. You’ve worked in law enforcement. What would you do in my shoes?”

Before she had a chance to answer, they were interrupted by a scuffle in the cave ahead.

The group had passed over the rickety bridge but hadn’t gotten further. It seemed Vincent wasn’t going so gently into the night anymore.

“You don’t understand,” he shouted at the group then peering back at Chandler. “I will not desert her! They’ll shut her away! She cannot be alone!”

Chandler recoiled.

Was she afraid he wanted to keep her down here?

She folded in on herself, and for a split-second Marc saw the woman he found huddled on the floor of a locked room, isolated from all support …

…. and kept there by the very people who were supposed to protect her.

No, she wasn’t afraid of the monster. She was afraid to be without him.

Yet after another few moments she shook off, stood her full height. She returned her lover’s gaze, as if her stare alone would convey her resolve not to subject him to the same fate.

“Can you understand loving someone so much you don’t want them in danger, even to save yourself?[iv]

In the further cave, the grey-haired elder placed a hand on Vincent’s shoulder and said something too distant for them to hear. At the words, the lion man sagged. Another low exchange and the lion man seemed ready for reluctant travel. He relinquished his son with deliberate care to the old man’s protection, then accepted the other’s help to stagger forward.

In another moment they turned a corner and were gone.

“Marc,” Chandler said, gaze still locked on where the group had disappeared. “You’ll have my cooperation. Not Dunn. Not anyone else. Just you.”

Appealing to his ambition, that was smart. Separating him from Dunn … not that she needed to … that was smarter. Make him her ally, her confidant. He saw through her tactics, but he had to respect her for them.

“I can help you. I can testify,” she promised, followed by the inevitable stipulation, “but only if you leave these people and this place alone.”

Could he?

Could he forget the evidence, the body …  one killer for another … to make the case against Moreno?

Even if Snow didn’t divulge this hidey-hole to his lawyer or the press … which was a big if … to ignore this place and who it harbored …

“I can’t guarantee that, Cathy.”

“That’s not good enough, Marc. Do you want my help?” she demanded, her anger seeping through. “Do you want hers?” She pointed to the young woman leaning into her sights. “Cause without it, you aren’t getting out of here.”

“Are you threatening me?” Each word parsed in measured warning.

Chandler shook her head. “I’m being realistic. I’m trying to trust you to find a way through this. Snow needs to be brought in…” She paused as if fighting to say the words. “For what he did to Peter and that man in the car, and … And he killed a man down here too.”

“I saw the body,” Morrissey acknowledged. “And as an officer of the court, you have a duty to give that homeless man the justice he deserves, and that means an investigation.”

“He wasn’t homeless!” the woman guard yelled, her eyes harder than the surrounding stone. “This was Jon’s home. He protected us!”

“Not really,” Snow chuffed.

“Up top, you don’t care about anybody!” the girl continued to rant.

“That’s not true—” Marc began.

Snow snickered. “Chick’s got a point.”

Chandler placed a hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “Jamie—”

“We’re here because we’re all disposable to you. ‘Homeless’, right? Nothing to you Topsiders.”

“I am an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My job is to maintain safety and uphold justice.”

“What a joke!” The girl sneered. “You couldn’t keep Catherine safe up there. You can’t keep anybody safe! Your *justice* is just a word.”  Chin raised, she ended with, “We care for our own here. We bury our own. Jon honored us.”

“Marc,” Chandler said, taking back the conversation, “We both have our reasons for not trusting each other. I lied to you before, but I won’t apologize for it. If the F.B.I. was investigating Gabriel, you knew or should have known where I was being held. Someone should have cared. They didn’t, but I have people who do, and I’m just trying to keep them safe from those that wouldn’t understand.”

“Well, let’s all sing Kum-ba-fucking-ya,” Snow cut in. Marc shook him silent, and Cathy continued.

“We both work for justice, but … justice is more than hunting someone down. It has to be.” Hands open,  imploring. “It’s caring for the wounded, the sick, the old. It’s … giving a child a safe place to grow … It’s giving those who’ve been hurt, those without hope, a home in an uncaring city.”

Her scrutiny held and wouldn’t let go.

“You asked me what I would do in your shoes. What would you do in mine?”

Before Marc could think of an answer, Snow interjected in a low menace, “You know none of this matters. It doesn’t matter if you have this little Fibby on your side. It doesn’t matter if you have every schizo and bum down here to protect you and your boyfriend, cause I won’t stop.”

“Shut up!” Marc shouted, pressing the service Sig’s into Snow’s neck as he wrenched the killer’s functioning arm behind his back.

What a time to be without handcuffs.

Maybe someone down here could get him rope … and a gag.

“You should have let your monster kill me,” the bastard persisted in an icy tone, undeterred by the pain of Marc’s hold.

But Chandler wouldn’t be cowed. Half a foot shorter she still looked down on him. 

“For what you’ve done, maybe I should have,” she said, meeting ice with ice. “But I didn’t stop him for you. Be thankful–you’re walking out of here. That’s more than your brother got.”

“Bitch,” Snow spit, “nobody’s walking out of here!”

All right, that’s it.

Shoving the killer to the ground and reaching around to relive him of his vest, Marc intoned, “You have the right to remain silent—”

And that’s when Snow struck.

The assassin whipped around, hurling Cathy in the process. He slammed into Marc with his shoulder, dominoing them both into the guard girl. Her head cracked against an outcrop as the bolt flew from her crossbow, missing the killer by inches.

The girl crumpled to the floor.

“Jamie!” Chandler screamed.

Without pause, Snow pounded Marc’s gun hand against the wall. Gut churning agony and a snap that traveled Marc’s entire body, and the Sig fell heavy onto the sand. Snow and Marc dove, both running on the adrenaline of knowing what the other would do with the weapon.

Before either made it, however, a whir of a figure shot from a hidden hollow and snatched up the gun.

“Wait!” Marc cried, but the shaggy-haired guy didn’t even look back before sliding, stealing home style, through a crack at the bottom of a wall and disappeared.

No weapon.

Marc twisted round to see the killer standing over Cathy. She scrambled backwards, hands and feet slipping on the sand.

Snow reached back and drew a knife from beneath his vest.

Chandler bolted.

Gritting against the pain and urge to vomit, Marc leapt and tackled the assassin, sending the knife across the room.

They wrestled, both handicapped by their injuries, but even Marc’s Quantico training was no match for Snow’s experience.

The white-haired killer got a leg free. His kick connected with Marc’s cheek.

Everything went black.

+++++

I can’t die.

Her first thought as she saw Snow rise, snarling from the ground after Mouse dashed away with Morrissey’s service weapon.

I can’t die.

I promised him.

Through the bond, she had heard Vincent after his outburst, after he wouldn’t leave. He had stared from across the bridge, unmoving and unmoved.

Come back to me, Catherine.

I swear … she had sent in return.

I swear, I will find you, no matter how far.

I fought the ghosts because of you. You are with me, always

I can fight. I can endure. Believe it.

Just believe.

If we believe, anything is possible. Your love taught me that.

I had forgotten …

I can’t forget.

Now Snow advanced in a hitched gait, one arm near useless only accentuating his determination to kill.

I can’t die.

For Vincent

For Jacob

For Jamie.

Looming over and with preternatural grace, Snow reached behind him, under his vest.

Jamie needs help, and if she can’t be helped, I have to live. To honor her and what she taught me.

For the home you love, for the people you love, you fight.

He withdrew a long black blade.

You fight until the very end.

You fight even if you’re doomed to fail.

+++++

“Vincent! Snow’s coming!” Catherine screamed, unleashing her full fear into the bond.

Pitching the once captive, post-partum body into her top speed, sprinting towards the Whispering Gallery. Behind her, the sounds of Marc and Snow’s struggling, a grunt, then scraping steps first walking then racing in her wake.

Too slow.

Onto the bridge, and not halfway before Snow’s competing footfalls sent capsizing waves across the tired ropes and planks. She struggled to stay upright and keep running.

Thirty feet to the end.

The whispers in the hall rose, growing louder, discernable.

“… sort of like a dream…”

“– there’s no turning back, huh?”

“What century did he walk out of Cathy?”

Twenty feet.

“I’ve watched you kill…”

“… gods and demons are everywhere…”

Three-quarters of the way across, the surrounding cavern vibrated.

“Don’t laugh…”

“…a queen moves freely…”

“Catherine!” Vincent roared above the voices. He and the others rushed to the bridge.

“—when a person is visited by violence, everything changes …”

“Cathy, move!” Devin shouted, drawing the killer’s gun from his waistband.

But where? Almost at the end, but not close enough. She wouldn’t make it before Snow plunged his knife in. Then he’d simply push her body over the ropes.

“You are a conduit…”

She could feel her death, inevitable … destined, even.

With no one between, what would a man like Snow do in the Tunnels? Vincent couldn’t fight him, not with his injuries. Devin might not deliver the killing shot before Snow got to him.

And past Devin was Jim … carrying her baby.

“You’re gonna remember every time you look in the mirror.”

She spun, dodging the grazing knife and reached into her pocket.

Using Snow’s own momentum, she raked with Kipper’s heart stone. The edge that had scraped against her worrying fingers now sliced cheekbone and eye socket. Devin’s shot came but missed. Both pursuer and pursued lurched to the deck planks, causing a fatal and final pressure to the ancient supports. 

For a moment, Catherine and Snow remained midair as the bridge disintegrated beneath, nothing holding them above the void.

Then an iron grip under her arms, a jerk backwards, and she found herself collapsed in front of William on the escarpment.

He held her on the precarious ledge as Snow, a screeching mask of fury, lunged, scratching at Catherine’s face with bloody fingertips just as gravity took hold. The inescapable force dragged him down along with the other remnants.

Devin, Cullen, and Vincent stopped short behind them, bracing them at the brink.

“Whoa there, big guy!” Devin exclaimed, after a couple of pants. “You don’t have to hold her so tight. We got you.”

Maybe he was holding her too tight to breathe. It hadn’t mattered. Neither one of them had taken a breath.

Despite the strong hands steadying them, it was still a few more moments before William—shaking with adrenaline and exertion—discharged her from his smothering grip into her husband’s care.

Vincent drew her away from the edge and enfolded her.

“Catherine,” he uttered in a relieved and graveled whisper.

He said more, but she couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t compete with the deafening roar of voices and the echoing of Snow’s howls as he fell.

She stared, first into the swirling abyss below, then at a limping Morrissey on the other side of the now impassable gulf. Young Stephen, newly arrived, helped the shaky agent peer over the ledge.

“Jamie …” Catherine attempted, but her voice held no power. “Jamie,” she said louder, and the others turned. “She’s hurt. Snow…”

“It’s ok, Cathy,” Cullen assured from William’s side. “Look.”

Jamie appeared at the opening of the far cavern with Mouse and Brooke on each flank.

Brooke was here? How?

Jamie only begrudgingly allowed Brooke to fuss over her, still in guard mode. She didn’t seem to want Morrissey out of her sight, head trauma or no.

Once Morrissey finished gaping where his suspect had fallen, he locked eyes with Catherine, while Vincent continued to hold her rigid body tight to his own.

“You’re safe,” Vincent repeated.

That was what he’d been saying.

“You’re safe.”

The voices of the hall died back to their usual susurrations as Cullen and Devin lifted William to standing, praising him for his strength and quick work.

After a few minutes, Stephen led a reluctant and questioning Morrissey from the hall to destinations unknown, followed by Jamie and her crew.

Vincent kept whispering into her ear.

“You’re safe. Jacob is safe.”

The recited words garbled into disparate vowels and consonants, losing all meaning.

The men on their side of the gap surrounded her and Vincent—William, Cullen, Devin, then Dominic and Canin, possibly others.

“It’ll be all right, Catherine,” Cullen declared.

“We’ll take you home,” Canin promised.

They all promised. And she wanted to believe them.

Yet she still spent an eternity listening to Vincent’s ragged heartbeat and repeated assurance of, “We’re safe now,” before she could close her eyes and, finally, surrender to his embrace. 

 

[i] Home, Chapter 29

[ii] Home, Chapter 16

[iii] Home, Chapter 14

[iv] Catherine in Home Chapter 25

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Paula

    wow, what emotions, what action… I read it with such feelings… I like how everyone fights to defend Catherine and Vincent and Jacob, basically their whole world, in your story Vincent is exactly the way I see him full of love, devotion and full of anger and frustration for what they did to Catherine while she was imprisoned, it was worth waiting for this chapter… I’m intrigued what will happen next… thank you

    Reply
    • Crowmama

      Thank you for all your support, Paula. I know it was a long time coming, and I appreciate you keeping up with the story. There are a few (very large) loose ends to tie up before we finish. I hope you enjoy the last few chapters, and also hope the next one doesn’t take me another 6 months! Arrggh!! It shouldn’t, but have been officially banned from making predictions on creativity. 😉

      Thank you again for commenting.

      Warmly,

      K.

      Reply
  2. Brit

    Oh wow!!! And now… well my heart is beating a little more regularly but I must now be with the waiting crew. And its going to be worth it.

    Reply

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